The track record of Indian democracy, which is by and large pluralistic, has often been sullied by violent attacks on religious, ethnic and linguistic minorities. The large-scale violence that targeted the Sikh community after former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards has been a particularly sad chapter in India’s evolution.
It is also ironic in that it was the former PM herself who overruled advice against having Sikh bodyguards because she considered that logic dangerous to the idea of a non-denominational republic.
It would not be wrong to say that all those who survived the 1984 tragedy are forced to relive those days every time the issue is brought up.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s evasive response on the issue in a recently aired TV interview and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s decision to ask for a probe by a special investigative team into the violence have yet again prompted questions regarding justice and closure, both of which have eluded the victims for nearly three decades.
Over the years, several commissions have probed the violence and several cases have been registered but not all responsible for the 1984 violence have been punished.
Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s statement — when a big tree falls, the earth shakes — virtually justified the violence and since then, the Congress has not been able to convincingly disprove its complicity in it or explain, in the very least, its incompetence to deal with it.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi and PM Manmohan Singh have apologised to the Sikh community which has also voted for the Congress in post-1984 elections. But no amount of apology would be enough to the community for the trauma and vilification it suffered.
Rahul Gandhi’s claims to be an inclusive leader were dented by his refusal to address the question head on during his interview. Justice for the victims of the anti-Sikh riots was an election promise of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and he must be supported in his attempts to ensure that.
There cannot be closure without justice. While it is legitimate to seek the votes of a community that feels wronged by promising justice, the timing of his decision to ask for a probe ahead of the general elections is suspect.
Mr Kejriwal must not make it an electoral gimmick. Nor should this be an occasion to rekindle dormant prejudices, separatism and sectarianism of any kind. The pursuit of justice should not be confused with vengeance and the role of the State must be to ensure that every citizen is protected regardless of her caste, creed or class.